The sign is gone, but the village lingers on.
"Twenty or 30 years ago, there was a sign that said: 'Welcome to Atwater, the Village Within the City,' " Bill Hart said. "It was in the median strip of Glendale Boulevard near San Fernando Road."
Hart, a former Air Force fighter pilot, bush pilot and fund raiser, heads the recently revived Atwater Chamber of Commerce. His territory includes--among other things--Mexican, American, Chinese, Philippine and Peruvian restaurants; an American chocolate factory and a Belgian chocolate distributor; some of the best bargains in clothing to be found outside the garment district; a man who makes fishing poles; a golf course, and a neighborhood market that sells ham-and-cheese sandwiches for half a buck.
Atwater is largely a blue-collar community. Its merchants have seen better days, and Hart wants to bring those days back again. He's not quite sure yet how to do it, but he's encouraging the merchants to band together, advertise outside the area and get the message out to residents of the community to buy in Atwater rather than cross the borders into other parts of Los Angeles or nearby Glendale. And he's working to resurrect that sign welcoming folks to "The Village Within the City."
From a visitor's point of view, most of Atwater stretches along Los Feliz and Glendale boulevards between the Golden State Freeway and the railroad tracks no more than a dozen blocks eastward. For a few things, like mirrors with a likeness of your lover on them, a Philippine meal or a Mylar balloon, a visitor will have to stray a bit north or south. But the detour will be short because Atwater remains a small village within a large city.
San Fernando Road
A--Conwin Carbonic Co., 5420 San Fernando Road West, (213) 245-2842, Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. This factory fills fire extinguishers, distributes massive amounts of dry ice and sells a wide variety of Mylar balloons with imprints ranging from "Happy Birthday" to a picture of the A-Team. The balloons, inflated with helium, run $2.75 each, or you can buy a floating bouquet of a dozen ordinary, latex balloons for $10. If you're a do-it-yourself type, pick up a kit of 144 latex balloons and a tank of helium for $44.42, but you have to return the tank.
B--Levitz Furniture, 5375 San Fernando Road West, (818) 240-1400, Monday-Friday 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Levitz is a furniture store, as its name indicates. What its name does not indicate is that Levitz also is a spectacle. To reach the 1.6-acre display of furniture, you walk through a fraction of the three acres of a hangar-like warehouse. Drivers, strapped to lift trucks like telephone linemen strapped to poles, scoot around on robot-like contraptions that rise and fall about 25 feet to hoist couches and chairs, desks, beds and other furniture of almost every imaginable description. Whether you buy anything or not, you are unlikely to forget a visit to this otherworldly, apparently endless universe of furniture.
C--Mirror Man, 5331 San Fernando Road West, (818) 500-7303, Monday-Saturday 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Bring a black-and-white snapshot of your favorite man, woman, dog, company logo or anything else to Demetrios (Jim) Sophos, and he'll blow it up and silk screen a perfect replica on the back of a mirror; then every time you look at yourself, you also see your favorite whatever-it-is. If you want to look at yourself and your favorite, you'll need $65 for a 9-by-12-inch mirror ($10 for each additional copy) or $120 for a 12-by-18-inch edition ($15 for each additional copy).
Chevy Chase Drive
1--Mi Lupita, 4105 W. Chevy Chase Drive, (818) 247-6474, Monday-Friday 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Since 1968, Manuel and Maria Montes have owned this Mexican restaurant where they also cook, serve food and clear the tables with help from their daughter-in-law and niece. The most popular menu items are the $2.50 deluxe burrito, filled with rice, beans, cheese, pork and a chili relleno, and a $5.75 combination plate with one taquito, one enchilada, one taco, one tamale, rice and beans. The weekend special is a $3 bowl of menudo--a soup containing tripe, corn and chili.
D--Barrio Shop, 4109 Chevy Chase Drive, (818) 242-9967, Tuesday-Sunday 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Five years ago Antonia Betancurt was ironing and sewing clothes in a factory. She decided it was better to sell clothes than to make them and opened this little store where women's and children's clothing are available for low prices.
Los Feliz Boulevard